EDIT: Chelsea wins. I’ll be expanding upon The Dream Thief.
My job never used to be this hard. Sneaking through the shadows, eluding attention, ripping daydreams out of heads like an art thief cutting a canvas from its frame. All this happens in the forty-two minutes of study hall. Too many creatures roaming The Dream at night – I’m only making ends meet through these morning sojourns.
My name is Erica, and I am a dream thief.
We used to be called the Traumdiebe. It’s German. Don’t ask. There’s a lot of things we used to be. Powerful. Untouchable. Family.
My father was a dream thief. He learned from his parents, and he taught us. My brother and I. Max. Dad taught me how to navigate the Dream. Max taught me how to find the shortcuts. Who made the best bargains. Where the choicest dreams were tucked away. That was before he was seduced, betrayed, and sacrificed by the Muses.
Callie Bernal was about to slip into a daydream featuring not one, but three of the varsity basketball team. For her, their presence wasn’t about sex, or about romance. This in itself was unusual – most girls our age dreamt about boys who physically looked like quarterback Cameron Montgomery with the one-note personality stripped from teen movies.
For Callie, though, it was about power. Her daydream involved a throne and a scepter (is it wrong that I judge her for copying the throne from junior prom?), a definite ab-transplant on Mark Sayers, and a lot of cowering. In her dreams, soft-spoken Callie had a tongue as sharp as Ginsu, and never struggled for the perfect retort. Quick wits like that would fetch a decent price – and I’m sure I could find someone to take the boys, too.
“Do you have it?” I’m just about to step out of The Dream when Arc appears, his voice like smoke. It’s fitting, because smoking’s a sin, and Arc wears sins like full sleeve tattoos. Or Prada. He doesn’t like to play favorites, he says, so he indulges in as many sins as possible. As often as possible.
The daydream is rolled up under my arm. I toss it to him, watching his midnight hair go from hair-band long to banker chic in an instant. One of the first rules my father taught me – never let an incubus touch you. And never fall for their beauty: any of it. Their good looks, the beautiful words dripping from honeyed tongues, all of it was hollow.
“I told you I would,” I say, watching as he unrolls it and starts looking over the subject matter. “I figure if I cut American History later, I can pick up a couple more for you.”
Stealing dreams was simple work. People wake up a little more tired than usual, and assume they either didn’t dream, or don’t remember what they did. They never know that there’s a black market built up around their subconscious. That we poke and prod them like animals, and shear off all the best stuff. That’s why Muses hate us so much – we steal what they work so hard to inspire.
“No rest for the wicked,” he murmurs, laughing to himself. Arc prides himself on being a badass. I think it irritates him that I never fall for the routine. His eyebrows raise, but there’s no other movement on his face. Another incubus perk – no wrinkles. “And your cut?”
I shake my head. “Nothing I can use,” I say. Because it’s true – I’m not about to take on Callie’s second rate imitation of a withering tongue. I’ve already got one of my own.
“Let’s see what you bring this afternoon before we talk price,” Arc says, drawing me back. His appearance has shifted again, even darker hair matches the guyliner and nailpolish look. A goth Jared Leto. His eyes travel down my chest. “Unless you want to sweeten the pot.”
I sigh in mock disappointment. “It’s like you’re not even trying anymore. Let me help.” I straighten up and clear my throat. “Did you wash your hipster skinny jeans in Windex?” I cock my head to the side. “Because I can see myself in them.”
I hold out my hand and wait. Arc’s eyes widen with judgment. “Are you sure, little one?”
“Isn’t that what the Sandwomen call you? Pobrecito Arc? Poor little boy?” I hold my thumb and index finger an inch apart. Arc’s smile widens while I shake some of the glitter out of my hair. (Glitter? Why did Callie need glitter? Honestly, she just does these things to piss me off). “Just give it,” I demand.
“This is a good one,” he says. In his hand is a different dream, dark chocolate and velvet. “Being chased by a serial killer. Dreamer doesn’t wake up until all their friends are dead.”
I didn’t like trafficking in nightmares – I’m a dream thief. But nightmares are cheap, and some people need to be punished.
“Maybe I’ll go back to school,” he says, leaning against the wall. “What do you think? Hot, new senior sweeping in to stir up some drama? Or maybe you want a hot, young guardian now that Big Brother’s gone, and Dad’s a vegetable?”
I wince, but Arc’s too shallow to realize he struck a nerve. He talks like this all the time. “I think you’ll do what you want,” I say carefully. I move away, keeping him out of arm’s reach.
“You tell those Muses I said hello,” he says, dark eyes glittering.
The nightmares are why I do this. Why I continue to do this. Some people need to be punished.
I’m going to start with the Muses. With the ones who killed my brother. The nightmares are just the start. Brainstorming, you could say.
What I plan to do to them is so much worse.